Textbook Savvy: Getting Thrifty on a Budget

I heard you. You have been freaking out about the cost of college for a while now and how you’re going to be able to afford all of the textbooks and extra class materials professors are throwing at you these days. I mean come on! They are getting smarter… having the homework be digital on a textbook platform that requires you to spend hundreds of dollars on access codes for single use just to be used once. That means you actually have to drop money on the textbook to get a passing grade. 

Last academic school year, it is estimated that the average college student spent roughly 1,200 dollars on textbooks and supplies last year. If you do the math, that’s about 600 dollars per semester. I don’t know about you, but if you’re a college student working for the university, getting paid 10 dollars an hour, that’s over 60 hours of work dedicated to paying for a semester of class materials! Some students have to choose to purchase textbooks over groceries, medical care or traveling to visit family. Others make choices about what classes to take based on the cost of the textbook and course materials. And some students aren’t buying their books at all (which isn’t necessarily always a bad thing, but I will get back to that in a moment).

So I have good news and I have bad news for you… which do you want to get hit with first? Okay… I guess I’ll start with the bad news. The bad news is I haven’t found a way around those professors that make you pay for access codes. The good news is that many professors have recognized the quickly rising costs of textbook materials, and actually want to provide you with options to keep the costs down. Imagine that! There are actually professors that give a crap about students and their financial well-being.

With four semesters of college under my belt, I can safely say that many of your professors will say that they require you to have a certain textbook and NEVER actually use it. That’s why I recommend two different strategies before purchasing a textbook for a class. The first strategy I suggest is to go onto ratemyprofessor.com and read all of the comments for your specific course. Do the comments tell you anything about a textbook? Like “Oh Professor X’s exams are all about the lectures and her quizzes are based on the textbook readings.” or “Professor Z told us the first day of class to get the textbook, but I never ever read one chapter of the textbook and passed the course with flying colors.” If you have Professor X, go ahead and plan on somehow getting the textbook for that class, but if you have Professor Z, don’t even bother. The professor has five stars and the class is rated 2.0 in difficulty. You’ll be totally fine without the textbook because it seems like he doesn’t even use it for his curriculum. While this strategy is great for deciding whether or not to get the textbook, if your professor has other course materials that they made specifically for the class for you to purchase at the college bookstore, I’d say that’s something you really can’t pass on. 

If you are on rate my professor and there are no comments under the professor for the course you are taking, then I recommend following my second strategy… “The wait till after the first day of class and see if the syllabus’s homework calendar has any homework readings and quizzes to go with it. Yes I said AND quizzes to go with it. If there are no quizzes to go along with your reading, then odds are, they are having you read the textbook for busy work and it’s completely unnecessary because everything you’ll need to know for exams will be verbally expressed and taught in lecture. Every professor I have ever had that used the textbook as a teaching method always rewarded points to the reading with a quiz as an incentive for students to actually read the text in order to pass the quiz and get a good grade in the class. 

Alright, so we’ve discussed that sometimes you have to drop a hundred bucks on single-use access codes to pass the course and that some professors actually care about you and avoid this method to keep costs down… however, some still require some form of text. So what are some best practices to keep costs down where you can? I have six different suggestions for you to consider. 

1. First, try to find the required text in digital or loose leaf methods. These options are cheaper, and honestly in my opinion more convenient than hauling around a back breaking textbook. The digital copy is needless to say available on your laptop of phone that you carry with you everywhere on campus, and what’s nice about the looseleaf form is that you can take the chapters out that you need to read and take notes on while leaving the rest of it back at you dorm or apartment. And yes, I said take notes on… not just on the materials but physically on the looseleaf. People pay great money for second hand books that have great notes taken literally on the text to use for their own studying purposes.

2. Consider finding older versions of the text. This isn’t always an option for every single class, but for some it will be cheaper to find an older version of the text as long as the versions don’t vary largely in terms of content that the professor uses from the text. When in doubt, double check with your professor before making this decision. 

3. Purchase used textbooks! Facebook is a HUGE platform where students who took the course a semester before you sell their textbooks for SUPER CHEAP!! I’m talking anywhere between 10 to 50 bucks a textbook. That is huge savings! You can purchase used textbooks on other websites too, but they are most likely going to be a lot higher than buying directly from one of your peers on Facebook. 

4. Depending on the class, one of the many libraries on your campus may actually have the book you need. While this option is very competitive because the demand for the book is larger than the library’s supply, if you’re ahead of the game you may just be able to score big time. This option may not be available for classes reliant on textbooks, but more for those english classes that are reliant on literature for their course materials. 

5. Renting textbooks as opposed to purchasing them is also an option. Again, I think it is probably more expensive than finding a peer to purchase textbooks from on Facebook, but Chegg, Google Play and other online sites are great options for renting if you are unable to find more affordable options. 

6. The price of textbooks can vary widely depending on the time of year, so one way to keep the cost down or even make a profit is to sell your textbooks from the previous semester when everyone is buying. Yes I’m a business student so I’m going to bring up the law of supply and demand. If everyone wants that textbook you’re selling and there aren’t a ton of buying options, you can sell it for more than you could if there were no interested buyers or a ton of buying options from competing sellers. Scarcity is a lovely thing when it comes to selling your textbooks to other students. The best time of the year to sell is to sell right when classes have started, so in January or September. Don’t try to get rid of them too soon like in December or August because you will not make as much off them. 

I hope this was helpful and kind of gives you a specific vision or direction to go in when considering how to keep the cost of textbooks and course materials down. Let me know what tips you liked most about this blog post in the comments, and also tag me on IG stories with #budgetwithbrooke once you’ve gotten your textbooks, and tell me exactly what strategy you used to stay within your budget. 

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